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Saturday, 30 April 2011

The £20.00 Challenge

'5 family meals for £20.00' claims the leaflet from my local supermarket.

Listing five meals for that will feed a family of four, the leaflet gives a list of ingredients that totals just under £20.00. Needless to say they are all meat and fish dishes.

Not surprisingly, all of the items listed must be bought from the store - and thats where they get you! Trouble is, most people don't shop around. If they did round where I live, they'd save a lot of money.

One recipe calls for free range eggs at £2.99 a dozen from the supermarket. The same eggs at the independent at the bottom of my road cost a quid less. The frozen peppers can be replaced by two fresh ones which would cost about 75p locally as opposed to £1 from the supermarket. Now take out the meat and substitute it with a vegetarian alternative and the costs start to plummet.

So, my challenge this week will be to create vegetarian versions of the recipes but for ONE or Two people and see how much they cost. Can I beat £20.00? I think so!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Protein Packed Pasta Sauce with pasta.

An often repeated - but misguided - criticism of the vegetarian diet is that it lacks protein. All foods have protein in them to some extent, its just that some have more than others.

TRS Soya Chunks are an excellent source of protein and they also give a bit of a 'bite' to food that you don't often get in vegetarian cooking. In my area, this product is readily available and as you can see from the price, very cheap too. I use them in this pasta source.

1 x onion
3 x cloves of garlic
25 grams of fresh basil (try to avoid using dried basil for this, all you get are black fleeces)
2 or three big handfuls of TRS Soya chunks
1 x 400 grams of tinned tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 x pinch of chilli powder
1 x vegetable OXO cube
1 x teaspoon of Vegemite or Marmite
2 x tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 x tablespoon of butter
Pasta of your choice.

Pop the butter and oil in a pan and heat gently. While that is happening, chop the onions and then drop them in the oil and butter with some salt. Cover and leave the onions to cook gently for about 20 minutes.

When the onions are done, mince the garlic, drop it in with the onions and let it gently cook for about 1 minute. While that is happening, chop up the basil and throw it into the pan.

Next add the tomatoes, chilli powder, stock cube, Vegemite and soya chunks.

Fill the tomato tin with water and pour this over the mixture and then squirt in the tomato puree.

Stir it all up, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

About half way through, start the pasta off.

For the last part of the cooking, take the lid off the sauce and turn the heat up and let it reduce down until its quite thick.

Drain the pasta, pour the sauce over and top it with a slice of strong cheddar.

Any spare pasta and sauce can be put into a container and taken to work next day for lunch.

Very tasty!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Newington Green Treasures - Part 1

It first caught my eye from the top of a bus. Travelling home one night from my college, I looked down and saw "Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables".

Before my bus sped off, two things struck me about the place. The first was the largeness of the shop, which was obvious, even from the top of a bus. The second was the crowd. Greengrocers are ten a penny round my way. So when you see one packed with evening commuters even when there is a Tesco Metro not far away, you realise they must be doing something right. I made a mental note to investigate. It was to be several weeks before I found a Sunday morning that was sunny enough to warrant the walk down there, but it was well worth the wait.

The mushrooms told me the place was special. Greengrocers, mushrooms - what so special about that? Simply this; I doubt there is another greengrocer in London selling loose oyster mushrooms from a box in front of the shop. And not even Harrods has the range of mushrooms this shop sells.

You want onions? You can have English onions, Spanish onions, Spring onions, Red onions, White onions and PROPER shallots. Some garlic to go with those onions? Would that be bulb garlic, elephant garlic or smoked garlic?

Wherever you looked in this shop, there wasn't just one - but several versions of everything. Prior to last Sunday I'd only ever seen Chantennay carrots in seed catalogues. Now, here they were in front of me. They sat alongside at least four types of chilli and probably the biggest range of fresh herbs on sale anywhere in London.

This place is heaven for vegetarians and misers. The greatest con trick played on today's shoppers is that supermarkets are cheaper than local shops. Anyone who still believes that myth is advised to do some research on their favourite supermarket's website before visiting this place. After a few minutes browsing round this place you will soon realise your supermarket has been charging you well over the odds for the flavourless plastic packed lumps of so called produce they have been foisting upon you.

There is a double premium to shopping locally in amazing shops like this. Not only are they clearly MUCH cheaper than supermarkets, but you only buy what you want WHEN you need it. On the same day as visiting this place, I was passed a leaflet from a supermarket showing how to make a week's worth of meals for 4 for 'only' £20. I reckon I could produce a vegetarian equivalent of those meals for far less by purchasing the ingredients from this place.

In the short time I spent in this shop, I did get a touch of vegetarian overload. So in the end, I settled for a couple of apples (30 pence) and vowed to return later with a shopping list. They were Braeburns, and organic I think. Even if they weren't, when I bit into them my mouth exploded with flavour- simply the tastiest apples I've had in years.

The greengrocers around Green Lanes deserve a food guidebook all of their own. There are a lot more 'trendier' places to buy food in London, but I doubt if they'd hold a candle to this place for quality range or price. I shall be back there with a long shopping list fairly soon, for it is my contention that Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables is one of the best greengrocers in all of London.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

A very tasty variation on a theme

Aubergine and Chick Pea Stew

I tried this tonight and it is gorgeous.

1 x Large Aubergine
1 x Large Onion
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 x knob of butter (equal to a tablespoon)
1 x 400g can of chick peas
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes and some puree and 400 mls of water.
1 x heaped teaspoon of dried mint
1 x vegetable stock cube
Salt and Pepper

Chop the onions roughly so they form quite large pieces.

Heat the oil and butter, chuck in the salt and gently saute the onions for about 5 minutes.

Next, chop the aubergine into large chunks and throw them into with the onions. Give them five minutes.

Having done that, lob in the rest of the ingredients and some water and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat right down and simmer for 30 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.

Serve it either on its own with some buttered flat bread or with some cooked pasta on the side.

So simple, but a stunning taste.

Oil have the Olive - if you don't mind!

Some advertisers are so cheeky its unreal!

This morning, for the first time in a very long time indeed, I actually wrote out a shopping list. Somewhere near the top of that list was oil, because I had totally run out.

I'd also run out of a few other basics in my store cupboard, such as stock cubes and pasta. I buy 95% of my food from the two independent grocers at the bottom of my street. This is because they are better quality and much cheaper than the local supermarket. But supermarkets do beat them on other things, which is why I made our local one my first port of call.

I was passing the oil shelf which had a still in front of it advertising a new kind of cooking oil claiming to be "45% healthier than olive oil!" The sales assistant was also keen to tell me how wonderful this oil was and if I waited for her to finish cooking her samples I could try it myself. Sadly, she was frying up bits of dead bird, so like a news of the world reporter in a brothel, I made my excuses and left.

Before I did, I had a look at the label and this so called 'healthy' oil was a blend of vegetable, rapeseed, sunflower and linseed oil in it. Hang on, don't they use linseed oil for cricket bats?

"So how do they work out this is healthier than olive oil then?" I asked. She started to go into her sales pitch but I cut across her to point out that olive oil has no cholesterol in it - which is why I have cooked with nothing else for about the last 25 years. Apparently though, olive oil has saturated fat in it, but her little concoction made up of 'Vegetable Oils (Sunflower Seed Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Linseed Oil),Water ,Salt (0.9%) ,Emulsifiers (Soy Bean Lecithin, Polysorbate 60) ,Soy Protein ,Stabilisers (Guar and Xanthan Gums) ,Colour (Beta-Carotene) ,Preservative (Potassium Sorbate) ,Citric Acid ,Flavourings ,Vitamins (A, D)' was free some such things.
The health benefits of olive oil and a mediterranean diet are so well known that I really don't need to repeat them here. For most things, I use Pomace Oil because its cheaper and is more neutral tasting. The process of producing pomace oil can involve solvents, but its got exactly the same oil in it and has still got to be much more 'healthy' than an over hyped chemical set.

No doubt people will fall for the trick, but I won't, not least of all because the stuff costs TWO QUID for half a litre. Having finished at the supermarket I went back to the independent grocer and bought a two litre bottle of Pomace oil (pictured right) - and look how much I paid for it.